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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Attorney General Tim Griffin certified the final element of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act ballot package on Monday.
The Arkansas Government Disclosure Act of 2024 was on its third trip through the AG’s office when it was certified for the November ballot.
Last Wednesday, the AG’s office certified four FOIA ballot measures as part of a package. The Monday certification completes the range of what advocates wanted to place before voters in November.
Earlier versions of the ballot initiative had problems with the language beyond what the attorney general is permitted by law to edit or change. The version certified on Monday did have the popular name and ballot title rewritten compared to what had been turned in by its supporters.
The proposed act makes two significant changes to the current Arkansas FOIA by undoing a provision passed last year and adding an oversight commission to the FOIA process.
The provision that would be undone regulates when school board members could meet in private. When Act 883 was passed in April 2023, it changed the existing law and permitted school board members to meet away from the public to discuss litigation, contract disputes, and property.
If passed by voters, the act would also create the Arkansas Government Transparency Commission, something the state has not had in the past. The commission, made up of state legislators and the Lieutenant Governor, would review contested FOIA decisions to make sure the law is being followed.
The Monday certification from Griffin’s office does end with a note of caution. Because the proposed law is far-reaching and complex, the AG states it may still be challenged in court. This is especially true because of the lengthy summary the proposal requires, Griffin said.
The certification was addressed to attorneys David Couch and Jen Standerfer with the group Arkansas Citizens for Transparency. The group was formed shortly after a 2023 special session where the legislature placed restrictions on the state’s Freedom of Information Act, which is meant to allow access to government meetings and records.
The group had filed a suit against the AG due to concerns about this proposal being certified. The group is meeting Tuesday morning and is expected to discuss dropping the suit due to its proposal being certified.
Backers are now required to gather 72,563 signatures to place the act on the ballot, something they could not do until certification. When the signatures are certified by the AG’s office, the measure will appear on the ballot.
Because it is an act and not a constitutional amendment, the act does not require the 90,704 signatures each as the four ballot measures. Signatures must be turned in by July 5.